When New Zealand found their voice, only briefly


Unlike Shamar who kept getting quicker with each over in Brisbane, Sears began running out of steam, not that you could blame him.

The Hagley Oval crowd had found their voice again. Ben Sears had brought them back to life. The debutant had also brought the Test match back to life. A Test that was drifting. A Test that seemed to be coasting towards an inevitable Australian win. A Test that had somehow left New Zealand's clutches despite it seeming to be very much in their tight grasp.

And then in the space of two deliveries, the young quick with the impressive leap, had knocked out both a well-set Mitchell Marsh and the in-form Mitchell Starc. The Kiwis on the field believed again. The Kiwis off it did as well., The former cricketers spread all around Hagley Oval, from the commentary boxes to the Sir Richard Hadlee pavilion, clung on in hope. On the field, Tim Southee did the same. This was his last chance to get one over the arch-rivals from across the ditch. One last chance to set the ignominious record of not having beaten Australia on home soil in 31 years right. One last chance to salvage what has been a very tepid start to his captaincy career.

Even the Hagley Oval DJ had decided to allow the excitement to come through purely from the actual crowd noise rather than infiltrate it with his tunes. The thousands of hardcore Black Caps fans around the Oval to their credit were creating quite the din, the most raucous of the Test match. And according to many the loudest they'd ever experienced at a Test venue in New Zealand., They were singing. They were chanting. They were buzzing., "This is not how it is in New Zealand but tells you how much it means to them to see their team have an Australian team under pressure," bellowed a former star cricketer turned star commentator in the radio box.

They'd even managed to quell the applause and cheers from the Australian tour groups, spread all around the ground, and especially closest to the dressing-rooms. For close to a couple of hours, Australia's domination on the field through Marsh and Alex Carey had been replicated by their fans in the crowd. Every run had resulted in a lot of clapping. Every boundary had resulted in a lot of cheering.

During the 40-minute period before the lunch-break, there had been plenty of both, as Southee started to lose control of his bowling plans. The three-over burst for Scott Kuggeleijn with the short ball was a costly setback. The Australian pair used it to bring the required runs down from 149 to 105 without any fuss. There were byes and leg-byes with the ball flying to the boundary owing to the waywardness of the fourth seamer's radar. Carey and Marsh were allowed to hasten the run-rate without having to take risks. It was all too easy. The game wasn't simply slipping away, it was motoring away from the home team down a steep slope.

Then on came Sears, getting rid of Marsh with a very full delivery that beat the burly all-rounder's closed-face bat, followed by a slightly shorter delivery that had Starc poking at and being caught at square-leg. Two in two. Carey left stranded at the other end with 59 more to get and just three wickets to go.

A month and a bit earlier, Australia had needed 45 to get when Pat Cummins had walked out to bat against the West Indies at the Gabba. On that famous evening, it was an inspired Shamar Joseph who'd ripped through Australia, refusing to give the ball up. New Zealand needed Sears to do the same. To own the moment. To seize it. To create history. Unfortunately for the youngster, he'd already done what he could. Unlike Shamar who kept getting quicker with each over in Brisbane, Sears began running out of steam, not that you could blame him.

The pitch at Hagley didn't have much for him either. Nor did the ball, now soft and literally bereft of a seam. And Matt Henry, who'd led the charge for New Zealand throughout this series, had finally lost his bite as well. Only 16 were required by the time, the eventual player of the series was brought back for his final dive for glory. By then, Carey and Cummins had silenced the crowd. They'd endured the Black Caps' challenge and nullified it. They'd taken charge. The inevitability was back. It was back to being Australia's Test to win.

At a time when the talk back in Australia was all around Carey's lack of form with the bat and the sword that they felt hang over his head, the composed and determined wicketkeeper was playing the innings of his life. One of the most influential knocks by an Australian wicketkeeper ever. At the other end, Cummins was staying true to recent form in these scenarios and holding his end of the bargain up along with his nerve. He was also finding runs and boundaries in equal measure to take the load off Carey, just like Carey had done when batting with Marsh in their 140-run stand. And none of it would have been possible without Marsh returning to his devastating form after a couple of zeroes, to produce the most mature of his counterattacking forays to set the game up for Australia.

It meant that the Kiwis had to attack and defend at both ends, leading to even lesser clarity as to how they were trying to achieve either task. By the time they could figure that out, the Aussies had crept closer to their target, needing only 7 runs now. And by the time Cummins punched the ball through the gap in the point region, the crowd from a New Zealand perspective had thinned out, the crowd noise from a New Zealand perspective had died out, and the hopes from the New Zealand perspective had long evaporated.

All that remained was the resignation of yet another Test defeat to Australia and the continuation of the barren run against them. On a day, where New Zealand, even if very briefly, held hopes of stemming the tide, and found their voice.